Maple Falls, WA – Two Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies who were shot in their heads during a violent encounter with an armed suspect last year have been awarded the State Medal of Honor (video below).
The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) announced in a press release on May 12 that WCSO Deputy Jason Thompson and Deputy Ryan Rathbun had both been awarded the Medal of Honor for Exceptional Meritorious Conduct and Serious Injury while in the Performance of Duty.
The medals were bestowed on the deputies by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office during the Law Enforcement Medal of Honor/Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony in Olympia on May 5.
The sheriff’s office also released bodycam footage of the Feb. 10, 2022 attack.
Attorney General’s Chief Criminal Investigator and Law Enforcement Medal of Honor Committee Secretary David Heitzman noted that the deputies both “placed the life of their partner and the lives of innocent citizens above their own” during the attack.
“We are extraordinarily proud of these deputies for their performance under fire and their endurance and efforts through the recovery process as well as their commitment to return to serving our community,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said.
“We are also very grateful for the assistance provided in the field by responding law enforcement officers and the private citizens who risked their lives to assist; the medical care provided by Fire/EMS personnel and PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center; the overwhelming prayers, support and kindness of so many; and the esteemed Committee of law enforcement professionals who reviewed our nomination and selected Deputy Rathbun and Deputy Thompson for this recognition of exceptional meritorious conduct,” Sheriff Elfo added.
The series of events leading up to the shooting began at approximately 4:17 p.m. on Feb. 10, 2022, when the WCSO received a 911 call from a resident reporting that a neighbor was outside firing off his 12-guage shotgun into the air, the Bellingham Police Department (BPD) said in a press release at the time.
“Additional callers to 9-1-1 gave specific address information and two people were shooting at each other from different houses,” the BPD said.
Deputies responded to the 3000-block of Green Valley Drive at approximately 4:40 p.m.
That’s when the suspect, 60-year-old Joel Young, began yelling at them, according to the BPD.
“Hey, you wanna shoot?” the suspect hollered in the bodycam footage.
“No, it’s the sheriff’s office,” one of the deputies responded. “Why don’t you come out with your hands empty and talk to us?”
“Kiss my dick!” Young replied.
The deputies further noted Young “appeared to be intoxicated by his speech and actions,” according to the BPD.
The investigation revealed Young had been drinking inside his home when a neighbor began burning a garbage pile at about 3 p.m., the BPD said.
“Smoke filled YOUNG’S house which enraged him,” the police department said. “He went outside to yell at the neighbor to put out the fire, was told to ‘F–k off’ which further enraged him.”
Young went back into his home and grabbed a shotgun loaded with birdshot, then “fired a round into the air toward the neighbor” before heading back inside to have another beer, according to the BPD.
Bodycam footage showed deputies again attempting to convince Young to surrender at 4:38 p.m.
“If you are the sheriff, I’ll blow your head off!” the suspect declared. “Get the f—k outta here! Tell these people to put the god–n smoke down. Take a ride on the wild side. Hit it!”
Young also threatened to “chop” the deputies up into “little pieces” during his vulgar tirade, the video showed.
The deputies were positioned next to a neighbor’s garage when Young spotted them and asked them what they wanted.
A deputy identified himself as the “sheriff’s office” and told Young to “drop the gun.”
“F—k you in the -ss!” Young yelled, just before he fired his shotgun and struck Deputy Thompson in his head, the video showed.
Deputy Thompson collapsed to the ground and calmly radioed that shots had been fired while Deputy Rathbun moved forward to cover him.
Young then opened fire on Deputy Rathbun, hitting him in his head, the WCSO said.
Deputy Rathbun was able to return fire and quickly retreated to cover.
“An unknown civilian stepped forward, fires multiple handgun rounds at YOUNG to protect the deputies,” the BPD said. “Both WCSO deputies are pulled to safety in a garage and where first aid was rendered, and they waited for additional deputies to arrive.”
The good Samaritan also helped render aid to the injured deputies.
“Yahoo!” the laughing suspect yelled as the wounded deputies waited in the garage for backup and further medical assistance.
Bodycam footage showed one deputy bleeding heavily from his head with a puddle of blood accumulating on the garage floor beneath him.
“I’m losing vision in my left eye,” Deputy Thompson told his partner at one point.
After additional deputies arrived at the scene, the wounded heroes self-extricated, the WCSO said.
Deputy Rathbun provided cover while Deputy Thompson got into his patrol vehicle and pulled it forward, at which point Deputy Rathbun jumped inside, the video showed.
They then set up a plan on where to meet medical personnel.
Whatcom Deputies Jason Thompson & Ryan Rathbun return to service after being shot in the head & recovering from injuries “I figured I could be dead here, if I’m not dead yet I’m probably going to die here shortly” Deputy Jason Thompson. pic.twitter.com/ZVzAj4SUxO
— Brisa Mendez (@brisamendez206) January 3, 2023
Additional law enforcement officers from multiple agencies flooded the scene in the minutes that followed.
The WCSO Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team also arrived and surrounded the suspect’s home, the BPD said.
Young ultimately came outside and surrendered without further incident at 6:06 p.m.
“You guys are really making a big scene out of nothing,” the suspect commented as he was being taken into custody. “Holy s—t, all you guys are here for me? …Wow, this is really cool.”
Young was arrested on two counts of attempted murder and was booked into the Skagit County Jail, the BPD said.
He remained in custody awaiting trial as of May 12, according to the WCSO.
Both deputies have recovered from their gunshot wounds and have returned to active duty.
Deputy Rathbun went back to work on Dec. 27, 2022, and Deputy Thompson joined him on Jan. 9.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content and Obscene Language:
Officer gets shot in the head but is able to apprehend the subject. pic.twitter.com/h6E5oFLW8o
— AlphaFox (@Alphafox78) May 20, 2023